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First Look: New Focus Mares CX and its innovative thru-axles

Focus' new Mares cyclocross frame comes with innovative quick-release thru-axles

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Focus has launched a new lighter, stiffer, and highly innovative version of its Mares CX frame. The German brand, which sponsors the Rapha-Focus cyclocross squad of U.S. champion Jeremy Powers, debuted the new model in conjunction with the world championships last weekend in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.

The new Mares CX will be available in both disc and cantilever brake versions and will incorporate a suite of new technology, including an innovative new thru-axle design and burly, integrated chain keeper.

Mares gets new thru-axle design

The disc version of the Mares CX will feature a clever re-think of the traditional thru-axle, dubbed RAT or Rapid Axle Technology.

The new design replaces the threads normally found on the driveside dropout with a simple slotted insert. The axle itself has a T-shaped pin that fits into this slot and is then turned, locking in place.

The result is a thru-axle that is quicker to engage and disengage than the usual threaded versions, bringing wheel swap times closer to a traditional quick release — removing one of the barriers to a disc brake takeover of cyclocross and road bikes.

Why go to a thru-axle at all? Simply put, disc frames without one are at a significant and immediate disadvantage. Thru-axles serve to stiffen up the hub/frame interface, and in fact serve as a brace for both the frame and fork. They therefore improve overall stiffness, improving handling and feel.

More important, though, is that they eliminate all movement at the dropouts. Even a good, internal-cam quick release allows for some flex and movement in this area, which results in the annoying ting-ting-ting of a rubbing disc rotor. Thru-axles eliminate the noise.

VeloNews riders have conducted extensive testing on both thru-axle and traditional quick release disc frames, and the difference is immediately noticeable. There’s no contest — the thru-axle frames are quieter and stiffer. The issue at the moment is a lack of thru-axle-compatible road hubs, but those are surely coming soon.

Focus marketing manager Tim Jackson could not comment on whether the new technology would be licensed to the rest of the industry, noting only that “it would only lend further credibility to the technology if we licensed it.”

The RAT thru-axles are relatively light, too. The 100x15mm front will weigh 77 grams and the rear 142x12mm will weigh 63 grams.

Frame details

The new Mares has more to it than a nifty thru-axle design, of course. The cantilever version of the frame will weigh just 895 grams and the disc version 922 grams — that’s the smallest increase in weight we’ve seen for a disc frame. Disc models usually add about 100 grams relative to their rim-brake siblings.

The cantilever fork will weigh 418 grams. Focus did not provide a weight for the disc version.

The frame will use a tapered 1.125-1.25-inch steerer to improve front-end stiffness. All the dropouts are full carbon, and the frame will use the PF30 bottom bracket standard.

The top tube is flattened for comfortable portaging, and all the cables are routed internally. The cables are even covered by a small plate at the bottom bracket to protect them from the mud and grime of cyclocross.

Geometry has changed slightly relative to the last Mares. The seat tube angle of every frame is now a stable 73.5˚, and the head tubes have been elongated by 15mm — that’s quite a lot, but they were so short before that the Mares still has one of the shortest head tubes around. There are new sizes as well — 48 and 60cm frames have been added to last year’s 51/54/56/58cm range.

The new chain guide is clever as well, utilizing the ISCG-05 mount standard developed for mountain bikes. It’s a great big honking thing, wrapping most of the way around the bottom bracket, making it all but impossible to drop a chain and wedge it between the chainrings and frame. Weight is reasonable, given the added security, at just 48 grams including hardware, and of course it can be pulled off.